OLIVER MARTINEZ SAT stiffly in the wobbly office chair, the room stifling despite the hum of the air conditioner above his head. He wasn’t usually the nervous type, being that military police didn’t allow time for panic, but facing off against General Reynolds, the man who pretty much held his career in the palm of his hand . . .
Well, he figured he had a right to sweat with the way the older man was staring him down.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Sergeant?” General Reynolds asked.
A thousand excuses ran through his mind, but none of them would appease the general, Oliver knew that. He hadn’t become an MP to be liked; even his family knew he wasn’t a people person. He was hardworking, sharp as a tack, and a mean son of a bitch when you got on his bad side—qualities that made him an excellent MP. And military police was exactly where Oliver belonged. He got to bust heads and keep order; it was structured, and there were rules. He was the good guy.
But this time, he had stepped in a big old pile of shit trying to play the hero.
“I did what I thought was right, sir,” Oliver said.
“You instigated a confrontation with a civilian that turned into an all-out bar brawl,” General Reynolds said. Although his tone and outward expression seemed calm, Oliver hadn’t missed the eye twitch on the left side of the general’s face. The man was beyond furious, and nothing Oliver did or said was going to make things better for him.
Why had he decided to go out with the guys on Friday? His buddies from group therapy, Dean Sparks and Tyler Best, had convinced him that he needed to get out and blow off some steam. He hadn’t expected to take down some rowdy kid or have the cops called on them. The civilian police had been cool, though, once he explained the situation, and as they hauled the kid off for drunk and disorderly, he’d thought that was the end of it.
Until he’d shown up for work this morning only to have Tate tell him he wasn’t on rotation and that the general wanted to see him. Oliver hadn’t had any idea what the meeting was about, but he’d never expected to get his ass chewed over something that wasn’t even his fault.
“It wasn’t a brawl, sir. I contained and subdued him too fast for that.”
Oliver regretted his words the moment they left his mouth. They sounded arrogant, and that wasn’t going to score him any points.
Especially since the civilian in question was the general’s son.
Despite knowing this, Oliver tried again to explain his side. “I just mean, and with all due respect, sir, that the civilian was drunk and harassing several women, and when I politely asked him to leave them alone, he threw the first punch.”
General Reynolds’s salt and pepper mustache twitched, and Oliver wondered for half a second if the general was messing with him and if he was secretly amused that his son had been taught a lesson in respect.
“I don’t care if he threw a hundred punches. You should not have engaged. You did not have to break his nose or sprain his wrist while you were restraining him.”
Okay, so he wasn’t amused. But no matter how angry the general might be, Oliver wasn’t going to apologize for roughing up the little punk. The kid had thrown a sucker punch that had lit fire to Oliver’s jaw, and it was still sore. And if the kid hadn’t fought him so damn hard, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt in the first place.
Would he have handled things differently if he’d known who the kid’s dad was? Maybe. But there was nothing Oliver could do about it now except take whatever punishment was meted out to him.
“It seems to me you could use a little time out of the field to learn how to channel your aggression . . . in other ways,” General Reynolds said.
Now the general was smiling, and unease swept over Oliver.
“Have you heard of the Alpha Dog Training Program?” General Reynolds asked.
“Yeah, I know a few of the guys running things,” Oliver said.
And neither Best nor Sparks had been happy about it at first. The Alpha Dog Training Program was the brainchild of some PR expert hoping to create a good public image for the military by training shelter dogs for specialty jobs like military, fire, police, search and rescue, and therapy. And if the animals-getting-a-second-chance angle didn’t just make you weepy, the dogs were being trained by troubled kids under the supervision of MPs.
It was meant as an alternative punishment for nonviolent juvenile offenders. Instead of being locked up in a detention center with months of community service tacked on top, they were sent to Alpha Dog. They shoveled shit, fed and cared for the dogs, and learned how to teach them basic obedience. The place was set up with barracks for up to twenty-five kids at a time. The goal was to give them a skill and refocus their energies. The program even helped them with job placement at several Sacramento veterinary hospitals and rescue organizations. It was a better deal than most kids in the system got.
“Well, I’m glad you’re familiar with it, because you’re going to help organize and promote their upcoming charity event,” General Reynolds said.
Oliver choked in surprise. “I don’t know anything about fundraising!”
The general’s eyes narrowed and glittered. “Well, this will give you a chance to develop a new skill.”
Oliver just sat there, weighing his options. If he pitched a fit and accused the general of abusing his power because Oliver had hurt his son’s delicate feelings, he’d be committing career suicide.
“How long will I be out of the field, sir?” he asked.